The Monkey Cage

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“Political Polling Has Reached Its End Point”

That’s according to Time magazine’s Michael Scherer, who cites a new survey from Public Policy Polling showing that one of Mitt Romney’s improvised campaign appeals is making big inroads into Barack Obama’s base in electoral-vote-rich Michigan. The PPP robo-poll of 500 Michiganders asked, ”In Michigan, do you think the trees are the right height, or not?” “That’s right,” Scherer writes, ”2008 Obama voters are 17 points more likely to agree with Romney on the height of Michigan trees. It was a crossover vote play all along!” (Trees also polled well among women and young people.) It would be fascinating to follow over the course of the campaign whether Michiganders bring their vote intentions into line with their, uh, spatial preferences or—as is more often the case —simply adopt the views of their favored candidate if and when they learn what those are. Alas, I don’t think PPP does robo-panel surveys; and in any case, political polling has reached its end point. (Thanks to Chris Achen.)

The Gallup Pro-Choice Number

A new Gallup poll shows that the percent of Americans calling themselves pro-choice has fallen to 41 percent. In 2008, when that number hit 42 percent, there was a predictable flurry of news attention. So I want to call attention to what I wrote then . In short, this “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice” question obscures the true nature of American attitudes toward abortion. Support for the right to abortion depends strongly on the circumstances of the pregnancy. They cannot be summarized with the labels “pro-choice” and “pro-life.” Moreover, and most importantly, more nuanced measures show little of the fluctuation that Gallup’s pro-choice vs. pro-life measure shows. Indeed Gallup’s new poll confirms this finding: However, it is notable that while Americans’ labeling of their position has changed, their fundamental views on the issue have not.

Do We Have a Civic Duty to Listen to Pollsters During Dinner?

About an hour ago, we received the following email from the communications director of University of California Television: Thought you might be interested in this short video commentary featuring UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy Dean Henry E. Brady on why it’s so important for average citizens to participate in political polls. The video premiered today on UCTV Prime, the YouTube original channel from University of California. Hope you’ll share the timely piece with your readers. I’ve known Henry forever and have a great respect for him and his work. Also I agree with the general message that political participation is important; regular readers of this and other blogs will know that I’ve spent a lot of time arguing against various voting-is-for-suckers-it’s-a-waste-of-your-time arguments. But, when it comes to political polls, I’m bothered by the asymmetry by which pollsters make money from interviews, while survey respondents often participate for free. And then, just a...

The Health Reform Battle Will Go On

This is a guest post from Eric M. Patashnik and Jeffery Jenkins. Patashnik is professor of public policy and politics in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia. Jenkins is associate professor of politics and a faculty associate of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. They are the coeditors of Living Legislation: Durability, Change and the Politics of American Lawmaking . ***** The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in June. If Intrade is right, there is about a 60 percent chance that the individual mandate will be found unconstitutional. But suppose the smart money is wrong and the mandate is upheld. Will the Affordable Care Act then be completely secure? Not necessarily. While a Supreme Court victory would be a huge legal victory for the Obama Administration, the main impact of the Court’s decision will be to shape the political ground on which the health...

2012 Greek Parliamentary Elections

The following post-election report on the 2012 Greek Parliamentary Elections is provided by Harris Mylonas , Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University and an Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. (His pre-election report is available here .) His book, The Politics of Nation-Building: Making Co-Nationals, Refugees, and Minorities , is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press. This is a historic low for the two dominant parties ruling Greece since the collapse of the Junta in 1974, PASOK and Nea Demokratia. Together they garnered only 33% of the vote. The result was hard to anticipate—especially the second place for the Coalition of Radical Left (SYRIZA), with 16,77%. Less unexpected was the electoral success of Independent Hellenes (10,6%) on the right and Golden Dawn on the far right (7%). A coalition government seems highly unlikely at the moment if one considers tonight’s statements by...

Is Obama More Popular Then He Should Be?

I tackle that question in a new post at 538. The analysis involves constructing a model of presidential approval from 1948-2008 and forecasting values for Obama. On average he is about nine points more popular than the model would predict. Out-of-sample predictions for Obama and past presidents are here (click to enlarge): Among these presidents, only Reagan and George W. Bush have actual first-term approval ratings that exceed their expected approval ratings at a level comparable to or great than Obama. If anyone wants to read the 538 post, which has more details, and leave me some reactions here, I’d be grateful. This analysis will hopefully be part of an initial chapter of the 2012 book , which will focus on the broader political and economic landscape leading up to the election.

GOP Unitymentum!

Following on this post , here is a tidbit from a new PPP poll: Romney’s seen a massive improvement in his personal favorability numbers over the last 2 months as GOP voters have unified around him. He’s gone from a -28 spread (29/57) up to a -12 one (39/51). Most of the improvement has come with Republicans, going from 43/41 to 67/22. His numbers with Democrats are steady and he’s seen a little bit of improvement with independents from 32/55 to 36/50, although he remains unpopular. The reason I keep harping on this is because party disunity is so frequently a news story, but party unity is by far the norm. In fact, one of the most venerable findings in the study of elections is that political campaigns consolidate the faithful, bringing wayward sheep back the flock, as it were. In one of the earliest quantitative studies of a presidential contest , The People’s Choice , authors Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet said this of the 1940 campaign: Knowing a few of their...

America’s Increasing Economic Inequality

Nicholas Lemann recently published a judicious review of several books on inequality in The New Yorker . Along these lines, I wanted to point out two links: 1. My comments on Charles Murray’s recent book. I argue that he has some interesting points but makes two big mistakes: (a) He focuses on upper-class liberals but ignores upper-class conservatives, thus only telling half the story. (b) I don’t think that Murray’s advice to “preach what you practice” is so easy. I give the example of Joe Paterno, who led an upright life and preached morality, but that didn’t stop all sorts of immoral things being condoned right under his eyes. The point is that, to be effective, “preaching” requires some effort. Talk is cheap. Actions (even actions as simple as calling the cops) aren’t. 2. Lane Kenworthy’s very thoughtful recent book on progress for the poor. Also, here’s an article that Lane and I wrote on economic and political inequality.

Who Is the Nate Silver of the 2012 Race?

So asks Ben Jacobs at the Daily Beast . The profile is here . Josh’s blog is Frontloading Headquarters .

How I Think About Presidential Elections Forecasts

(Flickr / Derek A)
Nate Silver’s newest critique of presidential election forecasting models has been making the rounds. He was kind enough to publish my response to his critique late last week while I was traveling, so I want to highlight it now. The essence of my response is this: Undoubtedly these forecasting models could be improved in various ways. I agree with several of Nate’s specific criticisms. (Thus, contra Jon Bernstein , I don’t think I’m “giving the models a pass.”) The models—despite their limitations—rarely predict the wrong winner, so the lay consumer of these models will not be grossly misled most of the time. By lay consumer, I mean someone interested enough in politics to care who wins the presidential election, but not much interested in “mean squared error” and other commonplaces of the “nerdfight.” Most political science knowledge about the economy’s role in elections, the effect of campaigns, and voter behavior does not come from forecasting models. There is no easy way to...

Predicting the Supreme Court Vote

This is from political scientist Michael Evans , and was originally posted to a law and courts listserv. I thank him for sending it along: ***** I was curious about the relative number of words directed at the two sides in yesterday’s oral argument and thought the results would be of interest here. For those not familiar with the research on this (see below), it has shown that Justices tend to direct more questions and words at the side they eventually vote against. (Questions and words are highly correlated, but I prefer words because questions are harder to define.) The theory is that Justices generally do not play “devil’s advocate”—asking questions to help the side they support—but, rather, attempt to expose what they see as the weaknesses of the other side’s arguments. This table shows the relative number of words uttered by each Justice to the two sides regarding the constitutionality of the individual mandate under the commerce clause. As is typical, Thomas did not ask any...

The Supreme Court, Health Care Reform, and Electoral Politics

(Flickr / TimmyGUNZ)
Last week I participated in a roundtable that on these issues, along with other GW faculty from public health and law—Sara Rosenbaum, Peter Smith, and Katherine Hayes—as well as former U.S. Senate Finance Committee staffer Mark Hayes and former House Commerce Committee Health Subcommittee Counsel Andy Schneider. You can find a synopsis here and the video here . My remarks centered on implications of health care reform for the 2012 election (as I previously wrote about here ). How might the Court’s decision affect the politics of the issue for the election? First, it’s likely that the Court’s decision—no matter what it is—won’t much affect overall public support or opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Court decisions often simply polarize approval—as in this study of Roe v. Wade. There are already early indicators that this will happen. In a March 2012 Kaiser Family Foundation poll , respondents were asked how they would feel if the court rules the individual mandate unconstitutional...

Politics in Everything: Cupcakes Edition

With special guest appearance by Jeff Henig , now at Teacher’s College, once of GWU ’s political science department (before my time). The Cupcake Wars came to Public School 295 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, in October. The Parent-Teacher Association’s decision to raise the price of a cupcake at its monthly bake sale — to $1, from 50 cents — was supposed to be a simple way to raise extra money in the face of city budget cuts. Instead, in a neighborhood whose median household income leaped to $60,184 in 2010 from $34,878 a decade before, the change generated unexpected ire, pitting cash-short parents against volunteer bakers, and dividing a flummoxed PTA executive board, where wealthier newcomers to the school serve alongside poorer immigrants who have called the area home for years. Such fracases are increasingly common at schools like P.S. 295, where changing demographics can cause culture clashes. PTA leaders are often caught between trying to get as much as possible from parents of...


(Flickr/Lucas Warren)
I’m sorry that Ruy Teixeira had to review this book. Give Senators iPads. Wishful thinking. Ezra Klein reviews Jack Abramoff’s and Lawrence Lessig’s books on money in politics—complete with a shout-out to Hall and Deardorff’s 2006 article and allusions to other research. Lessig responds .

As the Economy Goes, So Do the Birthers

Andy Borowitz wrote a piece called “In Positive Economic Sign, Republicans Starting to Say Obama Wasn’t Born in US,” and Barry Ritholz writes : The NYT ’s Floyd Norris, on a hunch, decided to crunch them to see if there is any math underlying the funny business. As it turns out, there is: Anyone can check the numbers to see if Borowitz was right — he is. Then there are these graphs: And this: You will note that birther mentions skyrocketed in the spring of 2011, after a run of increasingly good job numbers, and then fell off along with the job numbers later that year. Now, with the job numbers rising again, so are the birther stories. So far in March there are 263 articles, putting us on a pace to break the monthly record set in April 2011 when Donald Trump was trying to be the birther candidate. I like fun correlations as much as the next guy, but there is nothing to see here. When you download the data , a better graph quickly shows how little is going on here: The overall...